A Ski trip out of Seoul

This weekend I joined Adventure Korea’s ski trip to Pheonix Park, a ski resort which will help host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.  Everything was set up by Adventure Korea, all I had to do was pay and show up at the bus in Hongdae at 7:30 Saturday morning.  We made a quick stop at the Express Bus Station to pick up a few more foreigners and were on the way.

A few rest stops and 3 hours later we were at the equipment rental and had numbered bags with our sized boots.  Unfortunately mine didn’t fit.  I tried a second pair but it was still a little loose in the ankle.  The language barrier made that hard to convey but we were able to tighten them all the way up.  I realized I was only going skiing for 4 hours so resolved to deal with it.

The bad news was it started raining.  At first it was just a light drizzle but then it started coming down in buckets.  We glanced around the bus and I tried to stay positive.  Rain at the bottom could mean snow on the mountain!

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I slept most of the ride here so when we finally arrived at Pheonix Park I introduced myself to everyone else.  There were a lot of beginner skiers and boarders here but I managed to find Matt and Robert, two expert skiers.  We went straight for the gondola while the rest of our group opted for a beginner lesson.

The rain was still pouring down which made us enjoy the confines of our gondola even more.  We did some basic introductions; all 3 of us were teachers but Robert was the only one who wasn’t in his first year.  He had some basic Korean knowledge and struck up a small conversation with the snowboarders sharing our ride.

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The windows of our gondola were foggy and covered in moisture making it tough to tell whether it was snowing or raining as we reached the summit.  Putting our ski’s on and fastening the last of our zippers we stepped into a massive fog.  There was a light snow coming down!

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We stopped at the map before deciding to start 발리코스 (Valley Course,) with an intermediate blue square.  It started out steep with zero viability in the fog.  The good news was we had a thin layer of fresh powder!  I started out slow, its been a few years since I’ve been on the slopes and I zigzagged most of the way down cutting horizontally across the white road to ease my acceleration.

As we came below the cloud line the course leveled off and I gained a little more confidence without the steep drop.  Catching up to Matt and Robert we took a quick photo before zooming down the mountain.  On the way down I noticed the snow had turned back to rain.

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Unfortunately I didn’t realize that meant the normal ski lift would get us soaked and up we went skipping the gondola.  At the top again the snow was slightly thicker but it didn’t matter, we were already soaked through!  The only thing to do was warm up by skiing so off we went.

This run we had a little more confidence and opted for 디지코스 (Dizzy Course).  In order to get to this “high advanced” black diamond we had to follow an “advanced” 챔피언 코스  (Champion Course).  The difficulty ranking is a little different than I was used to with 4 levels, Green Beginner, Blue Intermediate, Red Advanced, and Black High Advanced.  I’ve never seen Red slopes before and the Black High Advanced were tough but not too crazy.

This run proved even foggier here and I lost sight of Matt the minute he pushed off.  Racing to follow him I cut hard into my turns, allowing for a little more speed as the snow whipped past me.  Uh oh, my boots!  The force of the turns was relaxing the already lax boots around my ankles.  I wasn’t afraid I’d lose them but it made me think twice about going full speed.

Opting to keep a moderate pace instead of racing down I eventually caught up with Matt and Robert.  To be honest I wasn’t that far behind but I was just happy to be on the slopes and keeping up with them.  We decided not to go all the way down this time and jumped on a chair halfway down before taking 팔리다이스코스 (Paradise Course), another black diamond.

We agreed to head all the way to the lodge after this run.  Soaked through between the rain and sweat we looked for plastic garbage bags and were rewarded with ₩2000($2) plastic ponchos!  Snapping them over our soaked jackets we rung out our gloves and headed for the gondola.  It was just after 2:00pm and we had until 4:30 on our lift tickets.

By the time we reached the top the temperature had dropped a few more degrees and the snow was really coming down at the peak.  We were happy to find a solid layer of powder on the slopes as we zoomed along.  We had already explored the two black diamonds but didn’t mind going again and again.  One time we made the mistake of following the beginner green circle all the way down and waded through fallen newbies only to find a longer line at the gondola.

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For the next two hours the 3 of us zipped along.  Matt showed a bit of his free-style off while skiing backwards and spinning around and around.  Robert and I took turns practicing doing 180’s on the downhill by switching our weight back and forth between our feet.  We found a few danger signs and posed before heading to the terrain park.  Matt even managed a few meter grind before gracefully dismounting.  When I gave it a shot I didn’t jump high enough (or at all?) and one of my skis immediately fell off.  My quick reaction kept me on balance as I less-gracefully dismounted my remaining half.

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Before we knew it our passes were up and we dropped our equipment at the bus before checking into the hostel.  Meeting a handful of the others the three of us decided to join Adam, Dan and Stephanie for some Korean Barbecue and to get going on an early night of mekju (beer) and (soju).

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The night brought about drinking games and more as we told our stories from the slopes and got to know each other.  In the morning I decided not to buy a 2nd lift pass because of the shoddy equipment.  I wasn’t alone and grabbed a bite as we wandered the resort.

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Watching the slopes we questioned our decision not to ski today but then I remembered the chaffing on my ankles and was content.  We watched some of the braver souls jump and grind their way down the mountain before jumping back on the bus for a 3 hour ride to Seoul.  Only now did I notice our bus driver’s fabulous bedazzled setup.

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